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Archive for July 8th, 2012|Daily archive page

Why Convergence Can’t Always Be the Goal

In Philosophical Musings, The Revolution on July 8, 2012 at 2:07 AM

I spent my Independence Day in Philadelphia hoping to connect with individuals at two national convergences: one being the National Gathering for the Occupy movement, and the other being the Philadelphia Radical Convergence that was explicitly critical of the Occupy movement. Since I was only available to make it to Philly for July 4th, I only caught the tail end of each–and even then, for various reasons that are hard to explain without a long-winded narration, I was only partially engaged with each.

Were there things that explicitly threw me off? Yes and no. I went to the PRC first, intrigued by a discussion they were about to have about homonationalism (and pink washing, as I expected). There were two moderators who began their discussion about homonationalism with an audio clip of a conversation between Anderson Cooper and Stacey Pritchard, a member of a congregation whose pastor is explicitly homophobic (as in “faggots should burn in hell” type of homophobia). The irony of that interchange on Anderson Cooper 360 was that Cooper defended “gay rights” by invoking the abuse of human rights–murders of supposedly ‘gay’ individuals in Iraq and Iran–in a manner aligned with the (neo)colonialist project of universalizing privileged, First World white gay men’s narratives. The self-identification and modes of being of individuals in those places identified by Cooper (Iraq, Iran) are erased under an implicit homonationalist rhetoric that selectively upholds that notion of gay rights as universal human rights while ignoring the violence perpetrated by the US military industrial complex. The very real abuse of human rights that occurs during U.S.-led bombings and drone attacks is muted as we choose to highlight the abuse of ‘gay’ rights in these countries. It strikes me as sadly ironic that a similar human rights-based discourse is used to justify egregious military violence through vaguely-defined goals of upholding “democracy” and “freedom.”

Needless to say, I found it to be an intriguing, much-needed discussion–except that the very bodies present in the room (and here we were, in the historic Church of the Advocate where the Black Panthers held many of their events) were predominately white or light-skinned. Here we were discussing the discursive violence of homonationalism and pinkwashing, but within a group that was largely white. It was a nice little throwback to my disorienting and surreal experiences in college, where, among other things, I had to endure discussions of income inequality in a room full of the affluent.

Those who spoke during the discussion periods allotted were of course folks who shared similar vocabularies and means of communicating, something that could not occur without some form of shared cultural and social capital, and primarily educational privilege (and I use this in the broadest sense, since I cannot presume the source of their education).

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Church of the Advocate

To be clear, there was nothing I was explicitly against, both in terms of arguments and the very structure of ­the discussion. This is a situation I’ve found myself in before, and it can be extremely unnerving when you wish there was a simple and straightforward reason behind your sense of detachment or disinterest. Perhaps it was me entering a space where I didn’t personally know the individuals involved and therefore did not develop sufficient trust in order to feel at ease within the conversation. Perhaps it was the fact that there was no explicit discussion of the varied privileges I perceived in that room, or the fact that this conversation was not created for an audience with less academic/educational capital. Regardless, as I often do in those murky moments of disengagement, I left.

Not surprisingly, when I made it to the Occupy National Gathering in Franklin Square, I was disengaged once again. There were definitely more people here, and the feeling was, for lack of a better term, ­­­carnivalesque–a clear attempt to replicate the spirit of Liberty Square, though with less amenities and tents. It was a bitterly similar feeling of not having an explicit, easily expressible reason for being disengaged (although the U.S. Americanist imagery was definitely cause for unease). Again, it could have been that I was a late arrival, did not have any personal connections with the people there, that there was an overrepresentation of whites, etc. I have less to say here because I did not make a concerted effort to engage–partly because it was absurdly hot and because it felt awkward swooping in while conversations were already in session.

So maybe I’m to blame for not striving harder to make connections, or to make my voice heard. But the fact of the matter is that I didn’t really care much for critically engaging or being heard.

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Small Groups in Discussion at Occupy National Gathering

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Among the various signs at Franklin Square

I write all this, frankly, not because I have something to genuinely critique, but because I have various questions and uncertainties that merit processing. I think there is a tendency in the academic Left to always critique–and that sans critique, you are missing something crucial, missing an important analysis or incisive judgment that should inform your understanding of the subject in question. Today, however, I feel compelled to write against this trend–not because I want to critique the process of critiquing, but more to naturally allow for the flourishing of ambiguities and uncertainties and see where that takes me.

Indeed, it was only in writing this–initially with the fear that I had nothing explicit to overtly analyze–that I realized that this was what I needed to unpack. Not everything needs an incisive critique, a mind-blowing analysis, or a beautifully-worded documentation of events.  Not everything needs a well defined  (forgive the jargon) telos, something upon which we can hinge our beautifully scattered minds. Sometimes the very process of ruminating is enough–and it certainly is something we need more of.

I admit that I wish I could have written something more extensive about the nature of social capital, or about problems of the Occupy movement, or about the conflicts that exist within a sectarian Left that has a tendency to problematize everything to the point of disunity. I could have written about many of these things (they certainly crossed my mind), but ultimately I find it more liberating to say I don’t have a fully processed, fully developed motive, agenda, or thesis statement.

As I’ve learned through a multiplicity of harsh experiences, the notion of ‘control’–whether it be of life circumstances, the people around you, etc.–is one predicated on the belief that you have power over that which is to be controlled. As much as I wish I could control certain things–my chronic pain among them–I’ve had to come to terms with something that many of us are trained to rebel against–that there are things beyond our individual powers.

Putting ego aside, sometimes the ‘discovery’ we need to make is in acknowledging the incredible hodgepodge of circumstances that cosmically collide for no apparent reason. I think now of the Serenity Prayer that is so often linked to Alcoholics Anonymous: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Sometimes our strength lies in acknowledging what we are able to change, make fit, or break apart. And sometimes it is in acknowledging that no amount of personal will can break the barriers that create havoc in our worlds. In between these two, we must ask ourselves some of the most heart-wrenching questions.

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